In this 30th anniversary edition of Oswego County Business Magazine, I have been able to reflect on my more than 20 years of column-writing for the magazine.
After I retired as publisher of The Palladium-Times in Oswego in 1998, Wagner Dotto, OCBM’s editor and publisher, asked whether I would be interested in writing a column for each edition of the magazine.
As I have told readers, we should never retire to nothing; we need creative outlets to keep our mind sharp and stimulated and to provide some worth to the world. While I never was a very good golf player, I suspect that retiring to playing golf would get old mighty fast.
I am very grateful that at age 83, readers believe I have worthwhile observations to make and information to dispense. At least letters, emails and phone calls from readers lead me to this conclusion.
Dotto will give me column suggestions from time to time, but he has largely allowed me to pick my own topics, and this, of course, is a writer’s dream.
Since I was a manager of the two newspapers at which I spent my entire professional life — The Express-Times in Easton, Pennsylvania, and The Palladium-Times in Oswego — I have dispensed opinions and information about the cataclysmic changes going on within the newspaper industry. I also have given business executives tips on how to conduct themselves and their businesses for more effective results.
There has been a sea change in the business world, and I have prided myself on keeping up with many of those important changes, which allows me to discuss current issues affecting managers and their operations.
I weighed Dotto’s column-writing invitation with the many other opportunities and responsibilities I had in retirement. Since OCBM is published six times a year, I considered writing an every-other-month column to be something to which I could give sufficient time, enjoy and share my experience with its readers. It would not be so time-consuming that it might impinge on some of the perks of retirement. I want to have some days where I have nothing to do and all day to do it. As I have often said, “If I knew retirement was going to be so much fun, I might have done it first.’’
In my reflection about my time writing for OCBM, I thought I would use some excerpts from some of my earlier columns.
For example, we might think that Fox News is a more recent phenomenon, but I was writing about it 16 years ago in 2006, long before the Donald Trump era: “Much of the mistrust of the news media today centers around their political tone — or, more accurately, their perceived tone. Are they liberal or conservative? The flashpoint of this raging debate generally centers on Fox News, which, despite being angrily targeted by liberals for what they believe is a conservative skew in reporting national and international news, has gained legions of new viewers.’’
I have tried to enlighten readers on the challenges journalists have in crafting a readable and interesting story as I did in another 2006 column: “The ability to synthesize thousands of words — sometimes screamed or spewed in emotional torrents — into a coherent report is an art form requiring skill, patience and talent. That is precisely what is expected of journalists each time they report and write.’’
Believe me, I have never been a Pollyanna or apologist for some of the horrible mistakes those in our industry have made. For example, in 2003, I joined the chorus of other journalists who criticized The New York Times, one of the pre-eminent newspapers of our time, for how it completely and utterly mishandled the case of one of its reporters who, among other things, lied about his on-the-spot reporting when he was thousands of miles away: “In an era when the public sees unethical and uncaring news media, the media practitioners are, once again, staring in the mirror and soul-searching their performance. In the wake of the Jayson Blair betrayal at The New York Times and the revelations of how the Times’ gate-keepers failed to heed sign after sign and how they were willing to give Blair second, third and more chances, the media are reeling in the searing white-hot spotlight this unsavory situation has brought them.’’
From time to time, I tried to educate readers on what journalists and journalism really are vs. the sometimes bogus picture that TV and the movies make it out to be.
In a 2004, column, I made this observation: “As in all walks of life, journalism spawns myths and misconceptions. In meeting with thousands of people during my years as a journalist, I have found most of them to be fascinated by journalism but also wary of it and its practitioners. We don’t do a very good job of letting the public know how we operate.’’ I then showed a number of these misconceptions and tried to answer them. Often the public believes that we journalists are unscrupulous and unethical when pursuing a story and will do anything to get the information. They believe we sensationalize to sell newspapers and boost the number of viewers and listeners. I then explained that most media have rigid codes of ethics which forbid journalists from engaging in these questionable tactics. This includes pursuing personal vendettas, taking gifts and profiting from advance information.
That said, when I was a young reporter, I was expected to follow the dictates of my seasoned editor whom I affectionately referred to as the “bulldog’’ because he looked like one.
One of a reporter’s most uncomfortable assignments is covering tragedy. The more deeply personal the tragedy, the more discomfort. As a rookie on the job for about two weeks, I learned of a motor vehicle fatality. Three teen-agers were in a car coming home from a Friday night of fun when their speeding car became airborne and impaled a tree. The car broke in two. The three youngsters were killed instantly.
After getting my information from police and the coroner (medical examiner), I went back to my office to file my story. I called the “bulldog’’ and told him the steps I took. He questioned me about whether I spoke to police, the coroner, eyewitnesses. Yes, yes, yes. “Did you talk to the parents?’’ he asked matter of factly. “You want me to talk to the parents?’’ I asked. “That’s right,’’ he replied. “Find the parents and talk to them.’’
I thought the “bulldog’’ was unsympathetic and uncaring, I figured the parents would never talk to me. I learned the identity of one boy’s mother and went to her home. I was shocked when she answered the door. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying. I introduced myself, apologized for the intrusion and told her why I was there. “Come in,’’ she said. I was dumbfounded but tried not to show it.
“Jimmy was a good boy,’’ she began.
“Can you tell me about him?’’ I asked. For an hour she did, painting a poignant picture of her son, recalling family anecdotes, frequently breaking into tears.
Afterwards, she thanked me. Her words stunned me, because, after all, it was I who was eternally grateful to her. She told me it was cathartic and therapeutic to be able to tell someone about the wonderful qualities and characteristics of her most cherished possession — her son.
Later that day, she called me at home to thank me for the sensitivity I had shown both during the interview and in the story, which appeared in that afternoon’s newspaper. This episode taught me an important lesson: Don’t assume anything when it comes to situations such as these. What I had assumed would be an intrusion into this woman’s life at a time of anguish and suffering turned out to be just what she needed to help her deal with her grief. We helped each other.
I also tried to explain in a 2008 column how we journalists agonize over important issues that wind up in print. Shortly after I had begun as a cub reporter, I covered a court case in which a witness said, “I didn’t do nothing.’’ When the newspaper came out, the quote had been changed to, “I didn’t do anything.’’ I called the city editor who handled my story to ask about the change. “Because we don’t want to make people appear to be illiterate,’’ he said. I objected, saying that a quotation is supposed to be person’s exact words, not the words we give him or her. This issue rages on among journalists until this day.
In 2007, I told the incredible story of Pedro J. Colon of 227 Duer St., Oswego, a paraplegic who scoured the streets, bushes and dumpsters and relieved them of nearly 4,000 returnable cans and bottles a week, about 208,000 a year. That’s right — about $10,000 a year through collecting recyclables through New York State’s 5-cent returnable law. I had not thought that the state’s recycling law could provide a job for the Pedro Colons of the state and, in the process, help clean up the environment of these unsightly containers.
The purpose of us journalists is to provide you with information — the important and the interesting — to make you an informed citizen.
In the process, we hope that we are giving you a toolkit of power to make the best possible decisions for you to navigate the many potholes of life. We also are giving you insights on your community, your government and many other facets of your lives.